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Big Country, The (1958, Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons)

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One of the epic westerns made in the ’50s, William Wyler’s The Big Country is famed for its stunning score and panoramic exteriors, but at its core is Gregory Peck’s eastern ‘dude’, unused to and uninterested in the violence of the west until, inexorably, he’s drawn into it.

Peck plays James McKay, a retired sea captain come west to claim his bride Patricia Terrill (Carroll Baker), daughter of rancher Major Henry Terrill (Charles Bickford). He walks into a feud between Terrill and Rufus Hannassey (Oscar-winning Burl Ives) over a watering hole for their cattle, which is owned by schoolteacher Julie Maragon (Jean Simmons).

And, to add to the mix, Terrill’s foreman Steve Leech (Charlton Heston) has eyes for Patricia and doesn’t welcome the arrival of a rival. As the two warring clans try to persuade Julie to give them her land, as Leech woos Patricia and as McKay finds his affections drawn more towards Julie, tensions mount and, inevitably, he’s drawn into the spiralling violence.

The film is not without its longeurs, but the stellar cast overcome them and the scenes of Peck’s solitary breaking of a wild horse to prove something not just to others but to himself, the brutal moonlit fistfight between him and Heston, and the final showdown between Ives and Bickford are enduring western film motifs.

production details
USA / 165 minutes / 1958

Director: William Wyler
Writers: James H Webb, Sy Bartlett, Robert Wilder,

cast
Gregory Peck as James McKay
Jean Simmons as Julie Maragon
Carroll Baker as Patricia Terrill
Charlton Heston as Steve Leech
Burl Ives as Rufus Hannassey
Charles Bickford as Major Henry Terrill
Alfonso Bedoya as Ramón Guiteras
Chuck Connors as Buck Hannassey
Chuck Hayward as Rafe Hannassey
Buff Brady as Dude Hannassey
Jim Burk as Blackie / Cracker Hannassey
Dorothy Adams as Hannassey Woman
Chuck Roberson as Terrill Cowboy
Bob Morgan as Terrill Cowboy
John McKee as Terrill Cowboy
Slim Talbot as Terrill Cowboy
Roddy McDowall as Hannassey Watchman (uncredited)
Richard Alexander as Party Guest – Oceans (uncredited)
Harry Cheshire as Party Guest (uncredited)
Ralph Sanford as Party Guest (uncredited)
William Hoehne Jr. as Lefty Hannassey cowhand (uncredited)
Donald Kerr as Liveryman (uncredited)

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